Are you glued to your fitness tracker, anxiously watching how each trip to the bathroom adds to your step count? Or are you a fitness tracker widow? Perched on the sofa while your partner does laps around your home trying to hit the magic number?
The 10,000 steps goal was first pitched in Japan as a way to sell step-counting devices like pedometers. It caught on, and has become a common health tip. It has been adopted by big organizations like the American Heart Association as a way to help you get the amount of activity you need each day to stay healthy.
“The long-term benefits of taking 10,000 steps a day are overall health and well-being, better sleep and improved heart health,” says Whittney Thoman, senior exercise physiologist in MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center.
Most people average 2,000 to 5,000 steps a day, but there are ways to bump that number up to the big 10,000.
10 ways to get moving and earn those steps
1. Take the stairs, up and down, but bear in mind that 10 flights is only around 100 steps.
2. Get a dog. 10 minutes of brisk walking is around 1,000 steps. Walking a dog is great motivation.
3. Park farther away. Adding a 15 minute walk to and from your car could add up to a third of your 10,000.
4. Stretch out grocery trips. Take one bag in from the car at a time.
5. Stretch out cleaning. Take one item back to its rightful spot at a time.
6. Hold walking meetings or conference calls. Walk fast, these should be at a pace to almost break a sweat.
7. Get off the bus or train before your stop. Take the stairs at the bus or train stations too.
8. Take extra laps at the grocery store. Don’t be tempted to pick up extra treats along the way though.
9. Walk at lunch. Go window shopping, visit a museum or hit a park. You can daydream your steps away.
10. Use a bathroom farther away. This only works if you plan ahead.
Ten-thousand steps comes out to about 5 miles. Unless you are in a job that requires you to cover a lot of ground, like being a chef or a nurse, it can be a big challenge.
“It’s not an easy task,” says Thoman. “I am never able to get it at work. I have to do more activity at home in the evening.”
The best way is to work out a routine, she says. Find some activities in your day that you know add up to a lot of steps, then commit to doing those activities each day. That could be walking around your office building or neighborhood, or parking in a specific spot 15 minutes from your office.
Steps and your cancer risk
Walking is a great way to start a fitness routine, and counting steps can give you a goal and keep you accountable. But to be sure of lowering your risk for cancer and other diseases like diabetes, you should make a plan to make your walking routine more challenging. Ultimately you need to do exercise that pushes you to make sure that your heart, lungs and muscles stay healthy.
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends you aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Do strength-training at least two days a week.
To get the most benefit from walking, make your steps count by walking quickly so it reaches the level of moderate exercise. This will get your heart rate up. Walk at the pace you would if you were late for an appointment or going to miss a train. Try to break a sweat instead of maintaining a leisurely pace.
Add in moderate or vigorous activity on the other days and a plant-based diet, and you’re on to a winning combination.